- Genre: 3D Action RPG
- Available on: Nintendo DS
- ESRB Rating: E 10+
- Fast-paced battle system
- Interesting leveling up system with the Stat Matrix
- Music is still great
- A few new ideas, such as the 2D platforming stages
- Amazing graphics and FMVs
- Status effects during combat
- Different keyblades provide different combat experiences
- Repetitive gameplay
- Convoluted, nonsensical story
- Recycles the same worlds, enemies, characters and music seen in previous games
- Annoying camera and finicky targeting system
- Awkward controls
- Only one command deck
- Avatar Menu is a useless addition
- Can’t play in long sessions
- Enemies that fly away from you
- Invisible walls
- Bottom screen changes from map to clock level tree, causing you to switch back to map constantly
- Disappointing same end boss that you have to fight three times
- Popup and slowdown in later stages
Kingdom Hearts Re:coded is more of an experiment than a full-fledged title in the Kingdom Hearts series. It’s an experiment that doesn’t fail, but one that doesn’t succeed. It is a remake of a Japan-exclusive mobile game, simply titled Kingdom Hearts coded. The main problem is that it’s too repetitive: it recycles the same worlds, characters, enemies and music from the first game in the series, which was released in 2003. There’s hardly any new content at all; the only new places are what’s called “system sectors” but it’s basically just one room, repeated with slightly modified designs.
Recycling content isn’t too much of a big deal, but this is the third game to do so. It was fun in Chain of Memories (2004) because it was on the Game Boy Advance so it used a different graphics style and the worlds themselves were made up of different rooms based off the environments, so though the music and characters are repeated, traversing through the worlds doesn’t feel the same as going through the regular worlds like in the first game. It was also fun in 358/2 Days (2009) because it allowed you to play Kingdom Hearts on the DS — Kingdom Hearts that could be played anywhere! It was nice to see the same worlds that could be played by different characters, but only because it was on a handheld. Now, however, we have the third game that recycles the same content. This is too much; this is going too far.
The story is completely convoluted; none of it makes any sense, and it barely provides anything to the main story, making this game almost pointless. The game takes place after Kingdom Hearts II (2006), when Jiminy finds a message in his journal that he didn’t write. In order to decipher the message, Chip and Dale digitize the contents. Somehow, they turn a regular hand-written journal into a computer program. This is why the same worlds are repeated: the journal from the first Kingdom Hearts is the one digitized, but really doesn’t make sense because the contents of this journal were already erased at the end of Chain of Memories, so how does the journal still contain this content? Once the journal is on the computer, they find that the data is corrupted by “blox bugs.” In order to fix the corruption, they must use a digital Sora. Do you understand yet?
Basically, you go through every world again. Then at the end of the game, you have to go back through the same worlds again to get your powers back. Then the final part of the game, though you don’t go to the actual worlds, you have to go through these rooms that use the same characters from each world! I swear, it’s like playing through the same game three times, or four if you count the original game. If that’s not enough, one of the main features is the ability to replay the levels, to find secret items or to finish sidequests. Though this isn’t required to complete the game (outside of the above-mentioned objectives), if you want to complete and unlock everything in the game, you have to. It’s basically replaying the replay of a replay.
The game tries to break up the gameplay by transporting you to “system sectors” which are basically digital arenas with different floors. There’s at least five of these sectors in each world so it starts to get annoying; it’s the same thing every time, with the same environment over and over again, only a few repeated enemies and the same music. Since the rooms are digital, the enemies aren’t fully-rendered with color. You can do challenges to earn more points to buy items, but some of the challenges are annoying and seemingly impossible (mainly the extra ones after you beat the game). There’s also a new feature called the “Avatar Menu” which lets you create and edit your own 2D Kingdom Hearts character. Obtaining new items, however, requires you to turn the WiFi on and use the “tag mode” which searches for other players. Once you find another player, you get a mini-game that’s basically a lottery scratchcard, then you unlock a system sector from that player. Once beaten, it will reward you with more items for your avatar. However, it takes at least 5-10 minutes to find only one player, meaning you will have to leave your DS on while it searches. You can only obtain a few items at a time, meaning finding players and winning all items is a long, tedious process.
The combat system is much faster and more action-packed this time around, and is based off of the system first seen in Birth by Sleep (2010). Combat also includes a clock-level that offers certain abilities to help you progress, such as Protect or Shell, but this hardly proves useful in most scenarios; only late in the game when trying to finish challenges do these abilities help most. Once you fill the clock level to max, however, you can use a finish command, first seen in Birth by Sleep as well. The most annoying part, though, is that the clock level tree appears on the bottom screen. This is shared with the map, meaning when you fill the clock level, it automatically switches to the tree, causing you to quickly return to the map in most cases. It’s not terrible, but is definitely an annoyance. This time, though, there aren’t command styles, which change your type of attacks like adding fire to each hit. Instead of the original menu with attack, magic and item, spells, items and abilities are setup in “deck commands.” Different abilities can be added to the deck and each one is executed by pressing the X button. You scroll through your commands by pressing the L button. In Birth by Sleep you used the d-pad, so this means that you can’t go up and down through your list with it. You have to hold down L and use X and B to scroll through your list. This creates a huge problem because movement is limited to the d-pad (obviously eliminating the choice to scroll through commands with it), which means that camera control can’t use both shoulder buttons, only one.
Re:coded helps reintroduce platforming to the series, which was present in the first game, but was mostly absent in the second. This provides more diverse gameplay, but the problem is the camera. The first Kingdom Hearts had the same problem: a clunky, annoying camera system, but it is actually worse in this game. Since the DS doesn’t have an analog stick or a slide-pad, movement is limited to the d-pad which is awkward when moving in a 3D space. Mixed with having to move with the d-pad and having to scroll through your commands with the L button, the lonely R button controls the whole camera. Tapping it will reset the camera behind Sora and holding it down will let you adjust it so you can look around, but when in the middle of combat, or trying to traverse from platform to platform, it gets in the way and is impossible to adjust it properly. This causes too much frustration while trying to make it to an area that’s out of reach by walking. The camera is also a huge problem during the system sectors because a lot of the platforms are in narrow passageways; this confuses the camera system, so it jumps and fidgets a lot. The target system is also finicky because of the camera; if there’s an enemy flying away from you, the camera tries to keep up with it, which works in theory, but the camera jumps around a lot, especially when in a narrow area. Try following a flying, targeted enemy that flies way from you in a narrow passageway. There are also what’s called “invisible walls.” This means that though there isn’t a visible object obstructing your path, you’re still not able to pass through the area. A prime example would be on Destiny Islands; in any other game, while you’re standing on the bridge, you can fly off the side, but here, you can’t. Also on the islands, you can’t walk into water. The game runs pretty well, but in later stages, for example in Hollow Bastion, there’s lag and the environments include a lot of popup.
New to Re:coded is the Matrix system, which is made up of three parts: Gear Matrix acts like a regular equipment feature, where you can equip accessories and other keychains and finish commands to help build your character; Command Matrix is where you setup your deck commands, but also lets you fuse certain commands together to create new abilities or to level up the command itself (such as materia fusion in Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII and the “meld command” option in Birth by Sleep); The biggest addition is the Stat Matrix. You level up normally (by gaining experience as you fight) but instead of your stats automatically being applied, you gain a Level Up chip which you must “install” on the Stat Matrix. You gain other chips such as + HP, strength and defense, and resistance chips (such as fire resistance, etc.) It works similar to the Sphere Grid in Final Fantasy X. On the Matrix you can unlock new abilities by installing chips adjacent to it, and also cheats that allow you to change how you play the game, such as changing the difficulty at any time, or increasing your chances for more items to drop. Although you can only setup one command deck (versus three in Birth by Sleep) this addition plus the Stat Matrix makes combat deeper and more interesting, and never is there a dull moment.
Though it has mostly the same content seen in other games, Re:coded does offer a few new gameplay ideas. In certain areas, there are 2D platforming stages; it’s basically Sora meets Super Mario. The only problem with these levels are that it constantly scrolls, instead of exploring the level and having the camera scroll with the character (with the exception of the last platforming stage at the end of the game). The Olympus Coliseum features a turn-based, classic RPG battle system (think the early Final Fantasy games). Pressing A at the right time lets you attack more than once, and also activates a special finish command, and you can press Y to block attacks from enemies. You can still use your deck commands, but this time you can mix two or three together to create an all new attack; there are also boosters such as strength and defense, called “licenses.” This battle system is only used in the coliseum, so those who don’t like turn-based combat, it’s over pretty soon. The final new feature is a third-person shooter stage. Sora flies in the air and you shoot in front of you. If you’ve ever played Space Harrier, you’ll know exactly how this plays. Each new gameplay element is very fun to play and executed well.
The only new enemies are the blox bugs. There’s an orange box that hurts you anytime you touch it, a yellow block with a star that holds prizes and metal blocks that act as regular enemies. These blocks also provide more platforming in regular gameplay. There are regular non-enemy blocks of the same kind, but also blue blocks that bounce you, red blox that you can destroy (but have no real purpose other than to help you reach higher places), a block mixed with blue and green that can’t be destroyed, but allow you to move around to get to higher places as well, metal boxes that can’t be destroyed or moved, and finally, two boxes that are blue and the other green, each with a star on them; you push these two together to create a new prize block. These boxes help provide more of the platforming gameplay, but aren’t a huge addition. However, now Sora can be affected by side effects, such as silence which stops the use of magic, or 1 ton, which stops him from jumping. This provides more opportunity during battle, along with keyblades now offering more abilities than in past titles, such as with Oblivion you can attack faster, and with others, draw abilities that affect how your clock level upgrades.
Re:coded‘s strength is its combat system; though it’s still a fun game, considering it’s Kingdom Hearts, it definitely disappoints in most other aspects. From the awkward controls and camera to the repetitive nature not just in gameplay, but also environments and music, it makes it really hard to sit and play the game for an extended period of time. You’ll still enjoy it, but playing through the same worlds and going through the system sectors every five minutes will frustrate you. I often find that playing a few minutes is okay, but then you might want to put the game down and come back to it later, basically breaking down each bit of gameplay into smaller chunks. Sadly, this will be the most fun you will have with the game. Other titles, especially Kingdom Hearts II, can be enjoyed for hours in one sitting and you’ll always have fun. Re:coded, however, cannot be played the same way and is its biggest downfall. The graphics are amazing for the DS (with FMVs that look like the PS2 games, though not as clear) and the music and worlds are still great, but it’s just more of the same. Kingdom Hearts fans should still purchase it, but for any newcomer to the series, this is not the game to start with and doesn’t fully represent what the series can do. I’ve been a fan of the series since 2003 and I own each game, and I can, though unfortunately, admit this is definitely the worst title in the series.